Things That Don't Suck
, Some Notes on The Stand
I recently reread The Stand for no particular reason other than I felt like it. I'm honestly not sure how many time[s] I've read it at this point, more than three, less than a half dozen (though I can clearly remember my first visit to that horrifyingly stripped bare world as I can remember the first reading of all the truly great King stories). It's not my favorite of King's work, but it is arguably his most richly and completely imagined. It truly is the American Lord of The Rings, with the concerns of England (Pastorialism vs. Industrialism, Germany's tendency to try and blow it up every thirty years or so) replaced by those of America (Religion, the omnipresent struggle between our liberal and libertarian ideals, our fear of and dependence on the military, racial and gender tension) and given harrowing size.
I'm happy to say that The Stand holds up well past the bounds of nostalgia and revisiting the world and these characters was as pleasurable as ever. But you can't step in the same river twice, even when you're revisiting a favorite book. Even if the river hasn't changed you have. This isn't meant as any kind of comprehensive essay on The Stand. Just a couple of things I noticed upon dipping my toes in the river this time.
[Spoiler alert: assume everything, from the link above to those below, contains SPOILERS.] [more inside]
"Woolf often conceives of life this way: as a gift that you've been given,
which you must hold onto and treasure but never open. Opening it would dispel the atmosphere, ruin the radiance—and the radiance of life is what makes it worth living. It's hard to say just what holding onto life without looking at it might mean; that's one of the puzzles of her books. But it has something to do with preserving life's mystery…" Virginia Woolf's Idea of Privacy
"It's annoying to hear we told you so—but, we told you so. The New Republic's
initial review, published July 16, 1951, perfectly anticipated all the gripes and complaints readers would ironically come to have about Catcher's
gripey and complaining protagonist." 63 Years Ago, We Knew That 'The Catcher in the Rye' Was Insufferable and Overrated
. [more inside]
"London has become a literary playground:
a project by the National Literacy Trust has scattered 50 book-shaped benches across the capital for the whole summer, each dedicated to an iconic London-related author or character." (The Guardian
). The BBC report
about the literary benches; the full list of benches
from the Books about Town website. CNN has a slideshow that includes a nice photo of the Paddington Bear bench in use.
One man's favorite adventure novels published before the '80s. "Why does my Top Adventures List project stop in 1983? Primarily because I figure that adventure fans already know which adventure novels from the Eighties, Nineties, and Twenty-Oughts are worth reading; I’m interested in directing attention to older, sometimes obscure or forgotten adventures."
, April 4, 1898
: "Mr. Clement K. Shorter
, asked by 'The Bookman'
to write out a list of 100 of the best novels in the English language
, supplied the following list, naming only one book of each author, and giving the date of publication :--" [Via
.] [more inside]
. Element: Mud
. Exemplar: The Lion of Belfort
. Element: Water
. Exemplar: Water
. Element: Fire
. Exemplar: The Court of Dragons
. Element: Blood
. Exemplar: Œdipus
. [Certain images NSFW on account of Victorian prurience] [more inside]
, Joyce's famously unreadable masterpiece (read it online here
), was considerably more
readable in one of its earlier drafts.
Watch Joyce cross out decipherable words and replace them with less decipherable ones! Watch him end, not with a whimper, but with a slightly less impressive whimper
! Sadly, Shem's schoolbook
, which in the finished version is a House of Leaves
-esque compendium of side columns and footnotes, was not written until much later
(according to the footnotes of that section). The introduction to this draft by David Hayman, who assembled it, is worth a read
Literature and Form
is a series of four lectures by Oxford literature academic Dr. Catherine Brown. The lectures are on the themes of unreliable narrators
, multiple plotting
and what comparative literature is
. You can listen to it as a podcast or through iTunes U
. In this lecture series Brown primarily looks at some central structures of the novel as well as examining what the study of literature entails. Brown weaves in examples from world literature, especially English and Russian literature of the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries.
In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the publication of Swann's Way
, the New York Times
is publishing a series of blog posts
on In Search of Lost Time
) [more inside]
‘I am a phantasmagoric
maximalist. I like things to be overwhelmingly strange
and capacitous. I want what I write to live; it isn’t about
something, it is
something’— Michael Cisco
. [more inside]
Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis
(1839-1908) is the greatest of Brazilian writers, an ironist, realist, and fabulist in the leauge of Chekhov, Flaubert, and Borges. [more inside]
In 1929, John Galsworthy won a Guardian poll as the novelist most likely to still be read in 2029. Three years later, he won the Nobel Prize, and the prices of his first editions skyrocketed. His reputation has since been on a 80-year wane that shows no signs of abating. The New Yorker asks Why is Literary Fame So Unpredictable?
And who will they be teaching in literature class a century from now?
, former owner of the influential Grove Press
and Evergreen Review
, boundary-shattering publisher
of Tropic of Cancer
, Waiting for Godot
, and Naked Lunch
, and U.S. distributor of I Am Curious (Yellow)
, died yesterday
at the age of 90.
For decades Dawn Powell was always just on the verge of ceasing to be a cult and becoming a major religion. But despite the work of such dedicated cultists as Edmund Wilson and Matthew Josephson, John Dos Passos and Ernest Hemingway, Dawn Powell never became the popular writer that she ought to have been. In those days, with a bit of luck, a good writer eventually attracted voluntary readers and became popular. Today, of course, "popular" means bad writing that is widely read while good writing is that which is taught to involuntary readers. Powell failed on both counts. She needs no interpretation and in her lifetime she should have been as widely read as, say, Hemingway or the early Fitzgerald or the mid O'Hara or even the late, far too late, Katherine Anne Porter. But Powell was that unthinkable monster, a witty woman who felt no obligation to make a single, much less a final, down payment on Love or The Family; she saw life with a bright Petronian neutrality, and every host at life's feast was a potential Trimalchio to be sent up.
- Gore Vidal
An American writer hasn't won the Nobel Prize for Literature since 1993 (Toni Morrison). Slate's Alexander Nazaryan tells us why
: "The rising generation of writers behind Oates, Roth and DeLillo are dominated by Great Male Narcissists — even the writers who aren’t male (or white)."
[Harold] Brodkey produced fiction that was epic too, but chiefly in its elaboration of human intimacy. To read his prose is to be incarcerated in the situations of his characters; indeed, it is to be very nearly overwhelmed by them. ... Brodkey moved forward with new forms for rendering human consciousness. His protagonist was, almost always, "a mind shaped like a person." The action consisted of that mind discovering its thoughts. [more inside]
"Trenchant satire" = poop jokes.
J. Robert Lennon at Ward Six presents the Literary Blurb Translation Guide.
Rise of the Neuronovel.
Marco Roth at N+1 argues that the recent interest of contemporary novels (Motherless Brooklyn
, Atmospheric Disturbances
) in the disordered wetware of their characters represents a defeat for fiction. "...the new genre of the neuronovel, which looks on the face of it to expand the writ of literature, appears as another sign of the novel’s diminishing purview." Jonah Lehrer responds to Roth and Roth responds back.
is a new, free community and platform for young people to share their fiction writing, "connect with other readers and discover new stories and authors. Users are invited to write novels, short stories and poems, collaborate
with other writers and give and receive feedback on the work posted on the site." (Via
Fire the Bastards... examined the initial 55 reviews that appeared in response to the publication of William Gaddis's masterpiece
The Recognitions. [more inside]
In early 1934, about a dozen of America's leading writers and critics - William Faulkner, John Dos Passos, Sinclair Lewis, Edmund Wilson, Thorton Wilder, etc. - answered the question: What are some “Good Books That Almost Nobody Has Read”
? [Via the always interesting Neglected Books Page]
Reading to the Endgame
: Algorithmic translation of classic nineteenth century novels into chessboard slugfests. Select the opponents
from a list of fifty-five novels in five languages, and watch each text maneuver across the battlefield.
"This is a novel born out of the intersection of two eras.
The first is a story of the Cultural Revolution, a time of fanaticism, repressed instincts, and tragic fates, similar to the European Middle Ages. The second is a story of today, a time of subverted ethics, fickle sensuality, and every kind of phenomena, even more like the Europe of today. A westerner would have to live four hundred years to experience the vast differences of the two eras, but a Chinese would only need forty years for the experience." Yu Hua's Brothers
, a sprawling, foul-mouthed, comic-historical epic, and the best-selling novel in China's history, is available in English. [more inside]
John Updike died
, have you read his books? Who has time where there are a 1000 novels
to read yet! James Delingpole argues
that it is impossible - and unnecessary - to grapple with every 'must read' of the literary canon. [more inside]
1000 novels worth reading
[about], from the Guardian. Part of its ongoing 1000 series: 1000 albums
, 1000 films
, 1000 artworks
. More than a list, it includes sub-articles and paragraph long write-ups of each.
Novels are 'better at explaining world's problems than reports'.
According to the study "The Fiction of Development: Literary Representation as a Source of Authoritative Knowledge" (HTML
), people should read best-selling novels like The Kite Runner
and The White Tiger
rather than academic reports if they really want to understand global issues, such as poverty, migration and other issues. [more inside]
The Iron Heel
, published a century ago this year, is a novel by Jack London about socialist revolution in the United States. It is set mostly between 1912 and 1932, with a foreword and numerous footnotes written from the point of view of a historian who has just discovered the manuscript some 700 years later. Here is an excerpt (which is printed on the back cover of some editions) from chapter five:
"This, then, is our answer. We have no words to waste on you. When you reach out your vaunted strong hands for our palaces and purpled ease, we will show you what strength is. In roar of shell and shrapnel and in whine of machine-guns will our answer be couched. We will grind you revolutionists down under our heel, and we shall walk upon your faces. The world is ours, we are its lords, and ours it shall remain. As for the host of labor, it has been in the dirt since history began, and I
read history aright. And in the dirt it shall remain so long as I and mine and those that come after us have the power. There is the word. It is the king of words--Power. Not God, not Mammon, but Power. Pour it over your tongue till it tingles with it. Power."
The Page 69 Test
--inspired by Marshall McLuhan's suggestion to readers for choosing a novel
, a new blog, inviting authors to describe what's on page 69. One says: Not the best, but not the worst. If my pages were presidents, I’d put page 69 somewhere in the James K. Polk range.
“See the child
. He is pale and thin, he wears a thin and ragged linen shirt. He stokes the scullery fire. Outside lie dark turned fields with rags of snow and darker woods beyond that harbor yet a last few wolves. His folk are known for hewers of wood and drawers of water but in truth his father has been a schoolmaster. He lies in drink, he quotes from poets whose names are now lost.
The boy crouches by the fire and watches him.
Night of your birth. Thirty-three. The Leonids they were called. God how the stars did fall. I looked for blackness, holes in the heavens.
The Dipper stove.
The mother dead these fourteen years did incubate in her own bosom the creature who would carry her off. The father never speaks her name, the child does not know it. He has a sister in this world that he will not see again. He watches, pale and unwashed. He can neither read nor write and in him broods already a taste for mindless violence. All history present in that visage, the child the father of the man.
--Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
Gould's Book of Fish
(full contents of Chapter One) by Tasmanian author/historian/Rhodes Scholar Richard Flanagan
is a critically lauded
2002 novel that is the most interesting and accomplished work of fiction I've read in years. Set in the 19th century on a penal colony off the coast of Tasmania, the book
is narrated by William Buelow Gould, a convict, charlatan, and possible madman.
Here is an audio interview
with Flanagan; here's an audio clip
of the author reading from his book. (.ra files)
Yes, the book is a few years old, but it somehow passed under my radar; and, anyway, a good book is timeless.
(Picking up the piscine gauntlet thrown down by Plutor.)
"This book isn't as good as Harry Potter in MY opinion, and no one can refute me. Tastes are relative!" A review of Orwell's 1984 on Amazon, from a list compiled by Matthew Baldwin at The Morning News
with a selection of the funniest one-star reviews of books from Time's list of the 100 best novels.
The Guardian has a nice interview with Ursula
K. Le Guin
about utopian science fiction, anthropology, ethnicity in Earthsea and the
differences between her two Earthsea trilogies. She also comments on the upcoming miniseries.
The Lathe of Heaven is a taoist novel, not a utopian or
dystopian one.... There
is an old American saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The novel
extends that a bit - "Even if it's broke, if you don't know how to fix
The Master and Margarita.
A hypertext exploration of the subversive Stalin-era fantasy, with maps and illustrations. A background to Bulgakov's life is here.
On Sundays West Coast Live
I heard an interview with Adam Johnson, the author of Parasites Like Us
, a post-apocalyptic novel with a decidedly (if somewhat spurious) anthropological bent. Literary criticism aside, as an anthropologist myself (and die-hard sci-fi reader), it got me thinking of what our vaunted Western culture may have to offer the survivors of whatever catastrophe may befall our civilization in the future.
From classic novels like Earth Abides
, or even The Stand
, writers and storytellers have tried to discern what may be the surviving aspects of culture once all else fails; what it is that has made and defines us as modern humans, and perhaps what it is that will sustain us.
So, what is it that would sustain you? What would separate you from the crazed and the mad that seem to populate the annals of post-apocalyptic literature? Or perhaps more specifically, what is it that you value of your culture and your technology that makes it worthwhile to maintain and perhaps fight your way back to?
Inspector Maigret And The Strange Case Of The Immortals:
prolific Georges Simenon
, most well known for his Maigret
mysteries, has just been published
in 2 volumes by France's most prestigious collection, the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade
. Crime fiction looks like it's slowly becoming respectable. What popular crime novelists would you like to see elevated to literature's highest pantheon? Or does it somehow ruin the fun a bit? For comparison purposes, I'd say The Library of America
is the nearest English language equivalent. [First, second and fourth links in English; others in French.
Is It Fiction If It Says "Fiction" On The Cover? Jorge Luis Borges
brilliantly obscured fact and fiction presenting fiction as fact. Things seem to have swung round 180º and fact is now increasingly being sold as fiction. This certainly seems to be the case with Siri Hustvedt's What I Loved
. She's Paul Auster's
and... Well... now even critics
, like The New York Observer's Joe Hagan
have joined the fun, as Slate's Katie Roiphe duly noted
. Fact is now presented as fiction, without the traditional disguise of the roman à clef
. I think it's sad. In fact, it's an attempt on the life of imagination itself. Perhaps these authors who write memoirs masquerading as novels could be sued under the Trade Description Act? [With thanks to the always excellent Literary Salon weblog. Thanks to ColdChef for pointing it out to me.